Rising Up Angry and Chicago’s Early Rainbow Coalition 1968-1975
Remembering The Black Panther Party, Young Lords Organization, Young Patriots and Rising Up Angry
By Michael James
In the 1960’s I was drawn to Chicago’s history of struggle and its tradition of community organizing. I became a part of the movement and that tradition. It was an exciting time in this town, when people of different races, ethnicity and religions thought about and acted on the belief in a Rainbow Coalition, striving to make the slogan “Power to the People” a reality.
The idealism and struggles of the civil rights movement set the decade’s tone. Never forget this nation’s years of slavery, then segregation, and the struggles for civil rights. Remember the voter registration drives in the south, the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the rise of Dr. King, the emergence of Malcolm X and the Black Muslims, the killings of Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, and civil rights workers Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner in Mississippi, and Muhammad Ali saying “no Viet Cong ever called me nigger.” The civil rights movement was the driving force for awareness and change that grew into an expanded opposition to the unjust war in Vietnam that by 1968 was at the nation’s forefront.
The struggles of 1960’s culminated symbolically here in Chicago in 1968, but the groundwork came not only from the civil rights movement, but from soldiers coming back from World War II and their rising expectations, ban-the- bomb-test demonstrations in Washington in the fall of 1961, the rise of feminist consciousness, the Cuban Revolution, the free speech movement at Berkeley and progressive actions on campuses everywhere, and the growing awareness of poverty in America with Michael Harrington’s book The Other America that led to the government’s so called “war on poverty.”
There was inspiration from around the world and a heightened social and political awareness here. We were a population becoming conscious, an emerging generation who cared about fairness and justice.
1968 was a hell of a year.
Dr. King took us to the mountaintop, and prophetically told us of trouble to come, that the road would be hard, but we’d get to the mountaintop, and we would get there together. They killed him.
Bobby Kennedy was killed too.
The Democratic Convention came to Chicago and The Whole World watched!
There were mass demonstrations in Germany and France, Soviet troops occupied Czechoslovakia, and hundreds of students were slaughtered protesting injustice and oppression Olympics in Mexico City in advance of the 1968 Olympics. From the victory stand Tommy Smith and John Carlos let the world know all was not well in the mother ship of imperialism.
On the Chicago Movement front, the Black Panther Party of Illinois and the Young Lords Organization emerged, and would provide organizational leadership for the years to come.
Up town, in Chicago’s Uptown, there existed a group called JOIN Community Union, a people’s organization initiated by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in their inspirational efforts to envision and create an “interracial movement of the poor.” JOIN started as Jobs Or Income Now, an effort to organize around unemployment, but early on transformed into a “community union,” addressing a wide number of issues that challenged people in Uptown.
JOIN organized rent strikes, a welfare union, food coop, and community theater, and its organizing fostered a loose organization of young men with a developing political consciousness. Known as the Goodfellows, they marched on the old Summerdale station protesting blatant police brutality in Uptown of the cops from the notoriously corrupt Summerdale Police District.
JOIN began to unravel with the pending arrival of the Democratic Convention. Former students were drawn to the anti-war struggle and other radical movement activities. Young guys, behind Peggy Terry, declared their independence from SDS at its convention in Bloomington, Indiana in the spring of 1968.
That fall, Peggy Terry, a southern white welfare mother living in Uptown and a leader in JOIN, became the Vice Presidential candidate on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket headed by Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver. Some community people from JOIN and the Goodfellows transformed into the short-lived Young Patriots Organization. And I along with Steve Tappis made plans to start a newspaper that would promote the revolution and revolutionary ideas and help build a progressive organization of poor and working class whites beyond Uptown.
That paper and subsequent organization was Rising Up Angry. We were inspired by the primarily Puerto Rican Young Lords Organization in Lincoln Park, which used the slogan “educate to liberate,” and by Lenin, who talked somewhere about the importance of a newspaper “in a pre-party situation.” And we were inspired, too, by the Black Panther Party, who valiantly stood up to oppression, and initiated “serve the people” programs.
It was the Illinois Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton (soon to be assassinated by Ed Harahan and the Chicago Police with the cooperation of the FBI and the Government’s infamous COINTEL Program) and Panther Field Organizers Bobby Lee and Henry Gaddis who conceived of the original Rainbow Coalition. They connected with the Uptown organizing.
Howard Alk, Mike Gray, and The Film Group, documentary filmmakers who filmed the Democratic Convention demonstrations, were shooting a film on the Panthers. Lee and Gaddis involved them in filming a meeting between the Panthers and young southern whites in Uptown. That film is American Revolution 2 and features clips of early Rising Up Angry people at a party in Logan Square.
A loose network emerged among the Panthers, Lords, Patriots, and the not-yet-named Rising Up Angry. There would be contact, too, with other groups and street gangs, including Native Americans who organized Chicago’s American Indian Movement. On a broader level, there was contact and interaction between organizers and organizations in many Chicago neighborhoods, black, brown, and white, working to disrupt and transform old man Daley’s order of the day.
When Martin Luther King was killed, this early Rainbow Coalition held a press conference at the WTTW Channel 11 Studios on St. Louis St. A photo by Linn H. Ehrlich captured the spirit of the times and the cross-race and cross ethnic organizing and sharing that was emerging in Chicago’s neighborhoods.
My strong belief at the time was that white activists of conscience or white radicals needed to work with white poor and working class youth, overcoming racism, and have them join the Movement, join the struggle along with blacks and Latinos to overthrow the racist-capitalist-imperialists who were running the show. I looked to groups like the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords Organization, and believed we had to get the word out to “the people.” I believed there was real potential to bring white youth into the movement. I believed the successes we had had with poor southern whites in JOIN and Uptown could be recreated in primarily white communities and neighborhoods throughout Chicago and beyond. I believed in what we said: “All power to the people.”
So it was that in the early spring of 1969 a group of us met in a farmhouse in Fairborn, Ohio. We talked about extending our organizing, reaching the “greasers,” young working class white youth who wore Ban-lon or Italian knit shirts, black leather jackets, A1 stay-pressed pants, or baggy work pants, and greased-back hair.
On a Saturday night in a rebellious mood we took in a flick at the dinky little movie theater in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Wild in the Streets was basically reactionary film made by the same people who made the FBI series on TV at the time. The film focused on youth rebellion and pushed the reactionary position espoused by some at the time “don’t trust anyone over thirty.” It featured a theme song with the line “There’s a new sun, rising up angry in the sky.”
“Rising up angry!” The phrase stuck, and it became the name of our paper, intended to educate in order to liberate. Issue No.1 featured a cover photograph of a young woman named Judy with an M16 rifle behind her boyfriend Pete on the back of my Triumph TR 6 motorcycle. The first issue was put together by Patrick Sturgis, where Steve Tappis and I were living at Kedzie and Armitage, and came off the presses at the old location of Chicago’s Newsweb Press on July 29, 1969. It featured a “get off the fence” call to action, articles on the Young Lords, Black Panthers, women’s rights, hot rod cars, guns, police brutality, and the war in Vietnam, and the first of many film reviews. Issue No.1 had one of Steve McQueen’s “Bullitt” entitled “All Movies about Pigs Aren’t Made by Walt Disney”. Gears, guns, grease and revolution were the themes, appealing to the white working class youth known in Chicago as “greasers,” and in other cities as “hoods,” or “rocks.”
We moved that paper all over town and beyond. We wrote on walls, conveniently referred to as the “pages in the peoples book”: “Power to the people,” “Free Huey,” “Off the pigs,” “US out of Nam,” “Respect our sisters,” and “Rising Up Angry.” We sold the paper at high schools and junior colleges, in parks where groups of young people hung out, and on corners everywhere. I spent hours in Logan Square at Milwaukee and Diversey, and in Lakeview at Lincoln and Belmont, shouting out “ sisters and brothers, its time to take the chain from the brain, time to get back in the people’s game, time to move it from the lower level to the higher, from the shallower to the deeper, and from the abstract to the concrete!”
We met people, became friends, played softball, argued, laughed, got high, invited them to political events around town, and started having People’s Dances, mixing rock and roll, blues and radical politics. We held our first dance at the old Wobbly Hall on Lincoln Avenue, next to the Three Penny Cinema. The police showed up with 22 cars, but we refused to let them in, standing firm, ready to fight, claiming we had a right to a party and we were not disturbing anybody. We held dances at Alice’s Revisited on Wrightwood, in the old Columbia College Theater building on Sheffield, at People’s Church on Lawrence in Uptown, and the MoMing Dance Center at Kenmore and Barry. We held a massive “People’s Celebration” with lots of rock and roll on the Fourth of July in Caldwell Woods. Eventually we started a group called Cooperative Energy Supply that put on mega dances with food, poetry, theater, and rock and roll, drawing people from neighborhoods throughout Chicago and the suburbs to the Midland Hotel, which we renamed “The Great Hall of the People.”
In relative short order we became known, and we influenced people, changing the way many looked at race, gender, and war and justice issues. We were definitely in the people’s radar. We were making our mark. Internally we had political education meetings on a regular basis, considering plans and actions. Following the lead of the Black Panther Party, we began to develop a series of Serve the People Programs that addressed some of the needs and problems that people in the neighborhoods confronted.
A Breakfast for Children’s program was started in the Church of the Holy Covenant at Wilton and Diversey. In that same church, there was a health clinic called the Fritzi Englestein Free People’s Health Clinic. RUA people were deeply involved, interviewing and testing patients from the community, advocating for them in the inadequate medical system, finding doctors and helping people in their dealings with hospital bureaucracies. We promoted the concept of preventative medicine, which included early checking, screening, and preemptive treatment, and also reflected our early interest in wholesome food, and our love of sport.
RUA created a Peoples’ Sports Institute, with a running club called the Easy Striders. We brought in early sports rebel, author and former pro football player David Meggyesy for a Friends of Angry meeting and a tour of Chicago colleges. We participated in a wonderful coed weekly volleyball event at River Park that fielded teams from many groups and organizations. We were strongly influenced by the Chinese sports slogan of the time: “Friendship first, competition second.”
The Rising Up Angry People’s Legal Program involved lawyers and developed community representatives who met with people in need of legal help, giving them advice, getting them lawyers, handling their cases, and advocating for them in court. For a time an adjunct of that RUA Legal Clinic was the bussing-to-prison program, that, like the Panthers, helped people visit their loved ones in the various prisons throughout the state. We soon learned that the rate of white incarceration was miniscule to that of blacks and Latinos.
The Legal Program also became involved in issues around housing. We worked with reporters Pam Zekman and Bill Curry to expose dismal housing conditions in Uptown, Lakeview and Albany Park. And the legal program took the lead in turning out our troops in challenging Police Superintendent James Conlisk in his public relations program that held so-called community meetings promoting the police in a phony light. When a member of the RUA legal team finally got to speak, he told it like it really was in the neighborhoods and was physically attacked by police and local Democratic Party hacks.
Friends of Angry was an outreach program of RUA that made contact and involved young people from throughout the city, bringing them to the Peoples Dances, anti-war demonstrations, and educational meetings on the war, the BPP, teaching young people about their rights when busted by the police, having meeting with young women about woman’s health and rights, using the first copy of Our Bodies, Our Selves, and showed films, like the labor classic Salt of the Earth, and the revolutionary thriller Battle of Algiers.
The GI Program involved vets back from Nam, helping focus anger and action against that war. A core group emerged from returning vets and a network of Marines who had been incarcerated at the Glenview Navel Air Station. Eventually we organized a massive march and demonstration against the war, using the slogan SOS—Stop Our Ships, Save Our Sailors in Foss Park in North Chicago, next to the sprawling Great Lakes Navel Training Center.
The United Farm Workers and Caesar Chavez were an inspirational organization in those years, and Rising Up Angry joined with others citywide in mounting an ongoing boycott of Jewel Supermarkets for their refusal to honor the UFW. Jewel sold scab grapes. To this day I cannot eat grapes without thinking of where they come from and of the farm worker struggles of that time. When 600 UFW members came to town, Rising Up Angry helped organize a big welcome rally for them. In addition to supporting the UFW's struggles, RUA members supported strikes and other labor actions both in their workplaces and in the streets.
1968, and the consciousness symbolized by Chicago’s Rainbow Coalition saw the emergence of a movement in Chicago and beyond that forged a generation whose actions, beliefs, and spirit is coming to fruition, whose involvement in politics and government is emerging today. There is a direct line, a direct link, from 1968 through the election of Chicago Mayor Harold Washington all the way to the Obama for President campaign. Perhaps more than ever We the People are in a position to help create a politics of affirmation, of unity and inclusion, that is about justice, fairness, and peace, hopefully playing a part in bringing people everywhere to that place where we can share one heart. All Power to the People!
© 2008, Rising Up Angry